amw (amw) wrote,

musical custard and the city

There was some post on ONTD the other day about the age where your musical taste gets stuck. It got me pondering about my own current musical situation.

There was only a brief period in my life where i listened to personal music players. I remember being very excited to get a CD walkman when i was 17 or so, but in reality i rarely used it. Then there was a stretch of about 5 years when i got into digital music and listened during my commute... And then i stopped, because i found listening to music during my commute was dissociative, and made it even more difficult for me to click "into" and "out of" work mode. I just got into a daze.

That music making me dissociate thing is something that happens outside of personal music players too. When there is music, i find it very hard to hear anything anyone is saying to me. Perhaps it's because i don't really want to. Well-crafted sounds just suck me in, put me somewhere where the profane world seems distant and irrelevant. This makes it inconvenient for me to listen to music while i work or while i am trying to do something - anything - else. If i enjoy the music, then that's all there is for me.

Perhaps that's why i spent so much time in my past actively listening to music - whether writing it or DJing it or (more often) going out to parties and dancing to it.

When i moved to Berlin, it was specifically because it's the world capital of electronic music, and electronic music is one of the core passions that has not changed for me since i was a child. I thought i would immerse myself in the music, that my already substantial monthly purchases would increase and that i would finally get serious about writing my own stuff.

As it turned out, the opposite happened. In Berlin there is so much opportunity to enjoy electronic music, so many different clubs, so many musicians, so many DJs... If you're into it you can just walk around and overdose by osmosis. You don't even need to try. You don't need to dig. You don't need to go out of your way to support the only promoter in town who throws the occasional gig where music you like is played. Berlin lets you be a completely lazy raver.

And then i left. Electronic music here is very different from Berlin. Well, anywhere would be. There are nightclubs, but they are actual night fucking clubs here, not day clubs, and i am too old and tired to stay up till 11pm just to listen to music. Beatport isn't blocked, so i could still buy music if i wanted, but when would i listen?

I guess days like today, when it's the weekend and raining outside and television ain't much because of America's summer break.

Most music i hear lately is from the old ladies exercising in public squares. The groups come together fairly organically - new groups are just a ragtag bunch with a ghettoblaster, but when enough people start turning up they spring for a proper sound system with bass for miles. The dancing only lasts for a couple hours after breakfast and dinner, which i guess is why the authorities don't bother breaking it up. Or maybe after all the fuss ~5 years ago it's just become an accepted part of modern life now. Either way, it's a wonderful use of the public space.

But what kind of music do they play? Well, some of them play really high BPM stuff with pitched-up voices, like happy hardcore or eurobeat. Some of them play bouncy electronic remixes of revolutionary songs or other classics. But the groups closest to my house seem to be sold on the ultra-slow tunes.

Which is the funniest part of all.

In Berlin my favorite kind of music had become the dubby, druggy sound, usually plodding along at under 100 BPM with lots of delay and a big bass kick and some warbling in a language you don't understand. Kind of like Enya for ravers. Recently that sound got popular with the Burning Man hipsters, so it's slightly more on the "commercial" end of things as far as "underground" techno goes. Lo, here in China, they play pretty much the exact same stuff every night in public squares as epic conga lines of grandmas dressed in matching tracksuits and white gloves perform synchronized moves from Michael Gondry's Around The World video clip. It's surreal and hilarious. Here's something similar...

黑衣红裙白手套,跳广场舞的大妈也这么潮 at

The other music i hear is incidental bits and pieces on shows and in shops. Thankfully China has well and truly embraced EDM, which is not exactly the same kind of electronic music i like, but at least it brings cool synthesizer noises and a decent beat to pop music. My current favoritest fave is a finalist of last year's Rap of China - GAI. I really love his flow, jumping up and down octaves and giving it a bit of melodic flare. Also triplets. Triplets are the best.



I am also getting a great kick out of a short video star called 农民工歌手 (nóng mín gōng gē shǒu) aka migrant worker singer. There are dozens of these guys on the short video networks, but the one i like is just a plain-looking construction worker who sets up his karaoke machine in various construction yards and plastic stool restaurants where he sings sentimental "take me home, country roads" style music. Here's a brief clip...

农民工歌手 at

I guess you can't really enjoy short video unless you use apps like 快手 or 火山, where you can scroll through hundreds of clips of (mostly) small town folk performing low-brow comedy skits and dorking around on camera. I find it fun to do in bed before falling asleep.

So, did i hit music paralysis? I guess, insofar as i am not buying music any more. But i still keep an open ear for everything i come across in passing, and i'm happy it's all new (to me). I still think the TB-303 is the greatest instrument in the world, and my breath still skips a beat any time i hear a shameless synth tune without any vocals or acoustic fluff to gussy it up for non-ravers. I just don't feel the need to dig for it any more. Modern music all over the world has been synthified, and it's awesome.

Every morning i catch a weird half-heard fragment of a tune that gets played around 8am somewhere in the neighborhood. I don't even know what genre it is because it's too far away to make out. That makes it even better.

Living in a city means you're never far from someone's tunes. As long as you don't plug your ears i don't think you can ever get stuck.
Tags: china, music

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